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Finding true love in tech business

Posted: 13 Dec 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:brand awareness? management? intel? idt? career?

Ravi Agarwal is IDT's new guy in Asia: No rookie in tech business.
Armed with a degree in solid-state physics from Oregon State University, Ravi Agarwal took an engineering job at Intel Corp. after graduation, as he was supposed to. There, he applied his degree by conducting projects such as yield analysis of CD-ROMs and related semiconductor devices. At first, it was okay. But not long after, he realized he was not that enthusiastic on the technical side. Rather, it was the business aspect that truly captured his heart.

Hence, like a true lover, Agarwal seriously pursued his interest. He attended an evening management program at the University of California in Berkley and took a four-month executive management program in Harvard business school where he found his true fervor. The opportunities to travel, meet customers and business partners caught his interest, and so he embraced the business side even more.

His curiosity in meeting different personalities and cultures can be rooted back when he was still young. Living a nomadic life, moving from country to country, he became fascinated with how people think and react to circumstances. And because Agarwal was most fascinated by the personality of Andy Grove, he chose Intel over IBM, HP, and other companies that offered him a job. There, he was involved in business development and product line management.

Intel inside

His best contribution to Intel was his novel idea of brand marketing. The program represented for the first time a PC component manufacturer communicating directly to computer buyers. Agarwal, along with a PR company, thought they needed something to raise brand awareness for Intel products. They talked with a company wherein, whenever the electronic company would advertise, they would mention the tagline "Intel in it."

"I convinced Intel to make investments for the infrastructure to achieve two goals: accelerate local PC consumption by setting up a software lab to localize key applications, and create Intel brand awareness/preference through the "Intel in it" campaign," he said. Not so many years ago, only a few mainstream consumers knew anything about Intel. Today, it is one of the top 10 globally-known brands. "This created strong awareness and preference to prospective customers. There were many companies who had never heard of Intel, but after the "Intel in it" campaign, they started calling and wanted to do business with us," he said.

Eventually, this brand awareness campaign was picked up by their American counterparts and changed it to "Intel inside." Agarwal also said that, "Even if new competitors entered the market, clients still prefer Intel because their end-customers wanted PCs based on Intel solutions."

Adding up to his list of accomplishments, Agarwal also took charge of opening the China market for Intel. He was instrumental in developing the China market strategy and building Intel's business in the APAC region. "It is difficult to penetrate new customers, but once you win them, you cultivate long-term business relationships," he commented.

Shifting gears

After more than 20 years with Intel, Agarwal contemplated on having a career change as CEO of an American startup company, or to run the Asian and Japanese operations of Intel. Unfortunately, there was no immediate opportunity for him.

When Intel offered a position as managing director for Intel operations in India, Agarwal refused. He did not want to work in India because he and his wife do not want to lose their independence. "In India, families and friends always want to give unsolicited advice to almost any conceivable issue," he said. Aside from that, his children were another concern for him. "My children have been westernized and they know almost nothing about India's culture. When you ask them what they want to eat, they would answer burgers and fries."

And so Agarwal left Intel. "I do not regret the 20 plus years that I spent in Intel", he said. "Intel is an excellent company and a great training ground where you learn from your bosses, peers, and subordinates, who are all A-plus players." His high respect for the company and his own personal ethics made him decide not to work for a company that was directly competing with Intel.

Agarwal's choice was Integrated Device Technology Inc. (IDT) - a 1980 high-speed SRAM startup company with positive cash flow from operations at a low $80 million in revenue and pro forma breakeven with 50 percent gross margin at a low $90 million in revenue. It was not as big as Intel, but clearly a stable company. He did not want to move his family from country to the next only to find the company go bankrupt in a couple of months.

New home, new challenge

IDT hired Agarwal to strengthen its sales efforts in Asia-Pacific and Japan as the new VP of Japan and APAC sales. As North American contract equipment manufacturers (CEMs) are transitioning business to Asia-Pacific, and customer design decisions are increasingly being made in Asia, Agarwal was brought in to address these design and purchasing changes. He was also brought in to drive IDT's sales strategy for Japan and Asia-Pacific. By overseeing both regions, he will work to improve communications and better manage the current customer transitions while continuing to grow IDT's business in these geographies.

"We continue to see emerging business opportunities in mainland China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Asia is of high strategic importance to IDT. Internet traffic continues to grow rapidly in this region driven by the availability of broadband and various wireless Internet devices," said Agarwal. Drawn from his strong business experience, Agarwal believes that a 50 percent growth which we saw in the late 1990s was too unrealistic. "I think that for Asia-Pacific and Japan combined, 25 percent to 30 percent annual growth over the next 10-year horizon is realistic. Because if you look at the Internet traffic, that continues to grow. That traffic is not slowing down," he added.

"Recently, I got a broadband at my apartment. This is the first time I got broadband for downloading any content from the Web. Also, this is the first time that I have my children's three computers and my computer network in my apartment through the WLAN. After going through these two experiences, I am not going back in my life to wired infrastructure. I am not going back to dial-up, it is too slow," he said

The same thing applies with other Internet users, according to him. When people get a taste of broadband and wireless networking, they will never go back to the old technologies. He feels that the future still remains very strong and inventory crisis is almost over. "Businesses will start investing again, countries will have to start investing again in infrastructure and I think we will start seeing growth," he said. "My view is that businesses and countries will continually invest in the IT and infrastructure. Whether it happens this quarter, next quarter, or next year, nobody knows the growth revenue or how [much] growth will [there] be."

With the dynamism and excitement of the business sector, how could Agarwal ever regret his transition from engineering to the business side and from Intel to IDT?

"I found business and management more exciting than engineering," he said. "I enjoy meeting people, as I've told you about my childhood experience of traveling and meeting different people. I don't think I will ever go back to engineering."

- Jaclyn Ong

Electronic Engineering Times--Asia

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